Sometimes we at Wine Awesomeness like to test the limits, see exactly how much we can get away with, so when we were invited to check out the renovations to The Vendue and enjoy a tasting menu at the new Drawing Room Restaurant & Bar, we thought let’s see how far we can push the boundaries of appropriate dress. Donned in the lowest V-neck we could steal from American Apparel, our sweet Penguin Originals flip-flops, and jeans so tight you could see our thoughts, we crossed the marble threshold into an absolutely gorgeous hotel/art gallery.
No, we weren’t trying to be an ass by slumming up their fine establishment; we just wanted to see if this was the kind of place we could come on a Tuesday night for a really great meal without having to break out the seersucker. Don’t get us wrong—we love our date-night locales as much as the next swooner, but isn’t it freaking awesome when you find a spot so versatile you can hit it up with your rowdy F&B friends and your significant other? Well, we found that spot.
When we arrived we were met at the door by general manager Pietro Giardini and his expertly tailored Italian accent, and this may sound biased, but whenever I meet hotelier with a solid Italian accent, I automatically like the place. The Vendue was no exception.
Before you ever put fork to plate you experience a visual feast unlike anything we’ve ever seen in Charleston. The interior is a continuation of Charleston’s Gallery Row (located just steps from the door), featuring works curated under the direction of Robert and Megan Lange of Robert Lange Studios—one of Charleston’s most loved and respected galleries. The white marble floor and Acadian columns are balanced by what we think is the best collection of visual art in all of Charleston. We just hope Rob and Megan don’t curate themselves out of RLS.
With seating for 50, the dining room is pleasantly restrained, and soft gallery lighting supplemented by 4 large crystal chandeliers pairs well with the conversation-permitting level of jazz standards mixed with modern nu jazz (think St. Germain, not Kenny G), which is a perfect representation of the overall vibe: classically modern, completely cool.
This polished and chic vibe follows through to the staff, namely general manager Terrell Ham. We had experienced Terrell’s smart brand of service at other Charleston fine dining restaurants and were pleased to see The Vendue didn’t skip when it came to staffing.
But without further ado: The food (and wine!).
Course #1: Heirloom Beets small plate ($10). An earthy, delicately sweet mix of golden and red beets are texturally balanced by duck prosciutto, thin crisps of radish, and a creation by head Chef John Cropf (formerly of Blu) called “licorice soil,” which we concluded is really just kitten dreams and rainbows solidified. Seriously, we have no clue what this caviar-looking stuff is, but after one taste, you really won’t care.
Wine: This dish was paired with a 2010 Taltarni “Taché” Brut Rosé from Australia ($11/glass, $52/bottle). A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, the bubbles pierced the oiliness of the prosciutto and crisp notes of rose petal and red currant helped lift the subtle sweetness of the beets while remaining delicate enough not to overpower the licorice soil. An all around superb wine from an unexpected source.
Course #2: Summer Gazpacho small plate ($11). The end of August is almost here, so before the unbearable heat of Charleston fades into the very reason we all live here—beautiful, beautiful autumn—do yourself a favor and try this innovative take on gazpacho. Forget the overly acidic, tomato paste cold soup you’re thinking of; this poached shrimp and mozzarella gazpacho arrives garnished with baby herbs and flowers picked from Sous Chef Nick McNevin’s backyard. The dish is the definition of harmony, and the only way to describe it is to imagine floating on a giant violet in the middle of the sea while watching a pepper-shaped cloud float overhead. A bit obscure, but you get it, right?
Wine: For this plate, Pietro chose the 2012 Patient Cottat “Le Grand Caillou” Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley ($10/glass, $47/bottle), and this stunning white is an undeniable overachiever. The vibrant acidity and minerality carried it through each layer of flavor in the dish and left our tongue tingling, while the tropical fruit, citrus, and spice aromas complimented the poached shrimp and smoked olive oil powder.
Course #3: Scallop mousse folded in bone marrow and wrapped in fried quinoa accompanied by charred asparagus, roasted corn, pickled yellow squash, and local orange peppers (special). Yowza! To answer your first question: Yes, this dish was as delectable as it sounds. I could’ve sucked down three platefuls of the mousse and marrow combination without a shred of guilt, but I composed myself and let the corn swim around a bit in the white vinegar sauce before licking the plate clean.
Wine: 2010 Clendenen Family Vineyards Tocai Friulano “Borgo Buon Natale” from the Santa Maria Valley in California ($11/glass, $52/bottle). Notes of apricot, honeydew, and traces of floral give way to a massive honey explosion, which is the perfect counterweight to the super savory and tongue-coating flavors of the marrow. This wine will fit nicely next to strong, well-seasoned dishes.
Course #4: Fresh Catch (mkt price) of local snapper with a head cheese crouton, Ambrose Farms beans, and micro fennel. While the snapper was to the point, and the beans a snap inducing al dente, it was the head cheese crouton that stole the show on this course. The healthy coating of golden crust provided just the right amount of crunch before sinking into the layers of flavor beneath.
Wine: Pietro chose the 2012 MIRA Rosé from Napa Valley ($10/glass, $47/bottle). Although aged in French oak, this pale salmon rosé was graceful and finely textured, with soft notes of strawberry and a touch of rose petal. The gentle, almost elusive nature of this wine was a smart match for the clean flavors of the snapper and crisp, slightly sweet beans.
Course #5: Braised lamb with cous cous, sugar snap peas, fennel, and sunchoke puree ($27). Braised for 16 hours, it still amazes me they were able to keep the lamb from melting right into the plate. As soon as it hits your tongue the cherry and miso glaze dissolve around a lightly caramelized layer of lamb and an even more tender center.
Wine: 2010 Artadi “Viñas de Gain” from Rioja ($13/glass, $62/bottle). This was one of my favorite pairings of the night. Although slightly tight at opening, once it had a moment in the glass notes of balsamic-covered red fruit, lightly toasted oak, and just the slightest bit of fennel came bursting through, which harmonized with the underlying modest gaminess of the glazed lamb.
Course #6: House made pound cake topped with local figs, raspberries, blackberries, and bourbon-soaked peaches, all topped with house made vanilla ice cream. Whew! We made it to dessert! Around course number four we started to doubt ourselves, but we did it. And sweet Baby Ray are we glad we did. This moisture-injected pound cake wasn’t just some placeholder to stack fruit; it was the centerpiece, with distinguished notes of vanilla bean and a buttery, crunchy crust framing the edges.
Wine: 2009 Pra “Monte Grande” Recioto de Soave from the Veneto, Italy ($54/bottle). This is an absolutely gorgeous representation of an otherwise obscure varietal. Recioto de Soave, for the unfamiliar, is a sweet white wine produced in the Soave region just a few miles east of Verona. These wines are made using a very interesting process called appassimento, which entails partially drying the grapes on straw mats or pallets in order to concentrate the grape’s flavors and sweetness. In this particular example, it resulted in notes of candied grapefruit, honey, guava, and orange blossom, with an off-dry, mouthwatering finish. An absolute steal at $54 a bottle.
Experience the menu at The Drawing Room yourself by entering for a chance to win a 2 night stay at The Vendue along with amazing gear from Brackish Bow Ties, Bespoke Post, Cigar Row, & Wine Awesomeness. ENTER HERE
Photos by Jacob Cleveland & Andrew Cebulka